Why Is Bigamy Illegal? (Explained)

  • Time to read: 4 min.

There are many potential reasons why bigamy is currently illegal in every state in the United States, and in this article, we’ll explain what bigamy is and talk you through the reasons why it is illegal.

Why Is Bigamy Illegal? (Discussion)

Disclaimer

The contents of this web page are for informational purposes only, and nothing you read is intended to be legal advice. Please review our disclaimer about law/legal-related information on this website before taking action based upon anything you read or see.

First, what is Bigamy?

Bigamy is a criminal offense in all of the states of the United States, though the offenses vary in severity from state to state. .

This offense may be a felony or misdemeanor, and the case may be more serious if the minors, immigration, or fraud are involved.

The elements of the offense of bigamy may differ some from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but they are usually something like:

  • while legally married
  • an individual marries someone else other than his spouse in the same state, a different state, or different country,

or

  • knowing that another person is married
  • an individual marries said person in the same state, a different state, or different country

The statutes make it criminal for both the already married person and the person marrying the already married person.

Intentional Bigamy Involves Misrepresentation or Fraud

One of the primary reasons bigamy is illegal is that it tends to involve lies or deceit.

As part of getting married, couples are required to obtain a marriage license, and make representations about their married status to the government.

They are also required to make representations about their married status to their soon-to-be spouse.

If you know you are married at the time of applying for a marriage license, you are lying to the government and your second spouse, and potentially gaining much.

In addition, many important rights are gained when a legal marriage occurs, such as:

  • joint property ownership
  • presumption of paternity and rights to children
  • government benefits
  • inheritance

Marriage is a complex and serious relationship in the United States, and much can ride on the success of a marriage, emotionally and financially.

Corporations cannot use lies to induce the other parties to enter into a contract, and neither can individuals.

Country Structured Around One Spouse At a Time

The United States is set up to handle the situation of one spouse at a time.

Just look at inheritance laws, for example.

If the deceased is married at the time of his death and has no will and testament, the laws of the state make it clear where the money is to go and how much is to go there.

If the deceased has multiple spouses and no will, there are no laws on the books for that situation.

Look also to social security benefits and other government programs, where the spouse gets a benefit.

Or at health insurance.

Or at property distributions in divorce.

Wrongful death proceeds.

It goes on.

Or how about who gets to make decisions for the incapacitated spouse if there is no advance directive form signed?

To incorporate multiple spouses at one time would require a massive overhaul of the legal system and other benefit systems.

Religion

The impact and influence of religion cannot be ignored in this instance.

While it would be expensive and annoying to update the laws of the states and the federal government, it would be possible if the people wanted it to happen.

But the roots of the United States are deep in religious beliefs, despite the efforts to separate church and state.

Many Americans are raised to believe that a relationship can only be two individuals, and no more.

Until recently, only a man and a woman could be lawfully married in any state in the United States.

There is not yet been room made for other non-traditional relationships, which many believe are ‘wrong’ due to their beliefs.

Given the polarized nature of politics, it is the rare politician who would ask the American religious public to allow bigamy.

Morals

Religion aside, established notions of morality are also an issue.

Even non-religious citizens believe that it is wrong to be in a relationship with more than one person at a time, or being in any kind of physical non-romantic relationship with more than one person at a time.

Being with one person is “loyal” (meaning right) while being with others at the same time is “disloyal” (wrong).

People associate polygamy with crimes against children, and bigamy with immigration fraud and elder abuse.

They do not associate bigamy and polygamy with loving families and well-taken care of children.

Slow To Change

Society is slow to change.

Even though it is possible for creative/non-traditional relationship to succeed without harming the country or the fabric of society, it just isn’t the way right now.

There are certain communities which have tried to make bigamy or polygamy mainstream, and have struggled/suffered as a result.

This is just the way it is.

Facing Bigamy Charges?

The best thing to do is confer with an attorney who has experience with both family law and criminal defense, as the needs of the client during such a case often overlaps both of these practice areas.

If the situation involves immigration issues, definitely confer with an immigration law specialist, as it is rare for criminal defense lawyers or family law attorneys to be well-versed in immigration law in addition to defense and/or family law.

Wrap Up

Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?

Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

You might also like:

Why Is Bigamy Illegal